Finally understanding what it’s like to be a Palestinian
(Farewell to mam) by Derek Graham
Since 2008 we have worked as solidarity activist / human rights workers with the Palestinians running boats in and out of Gaza and in the beginning of 2012 we moved to Gaza full time. Living here you think you understand what it is like because you are eating the same food and showering in the same salty water as the Palestinians. You wait for your bottle of gas the same as the Palestinians (some times for weeks) and you have the same amount of electricity as they do. But all this is only scratching at the surface.
It was only 2 weeks ago we started to really learn what life is like for Palestinians.
Two weeks ago we got that phone call from home that no son or daughter ever wants to get. Come home quick your mother is very sick. As we both have been arrested by the Israelis on the boats, leaving through Israel is not an option as we are both on the black list for 10 years. For most Palestinians leaving through Israel is not an option either. So your only option is through Rafah, this may sound easy but it`s far from easy.
We went to the Government here and told them we needed to get home quick, they were sympathetic but said they didn`t know when the border would be open again and that we would need to co-ordinate with the Egyptians. We contacted the Egyptian embassy in Dublin and explained our situation and I must say the staff there is very polite and very helpful and most of all they were understanding. They got us the co-ordination and said we can leave the next time the border opens. Sadly though, they have no control over the Rafah border and couldn`t say when it would open.
As the days went on the news from home was getting worse but there was a glimmer of hope from this side. If the unity agreement is signed Rafah will open permanently, unity agreement was signed, and Minister’s sworn in and then there was a problem. Nobody is sure or will say what the problem is but the border isn`t opening. At this stage in Gaza there are over 6,000 people waiting to get out for medical treatment and 1,000s of student waiting getting to college many of whom will lose their places if there are not there on time. Their whole future depending on when Rafah will open and for how long as there are only so many people allowed out each day it opens.
The more days that pass the more helpless you feel, whether you get to see you mother before she dies is out of your hand. Time starts to move more slowly, hours seems like days.You try to keep yourself busy working at different projects so that your just not sitting around and thinking, if you do the situation becomes unbearable. You start to understand why things like football is such a big thing here, it`s to take their minds off the siege because if you just sit around and think about the siege you would go crazy.
It`s Friday night here the 13th and the news from home is not very good at all. It`s looking like I won`t make it home on time. There is a rumour going around that the border will open on Sunday but it is only for pilgrims. We have no choice but to try any way, we like every other Palestinian in here are pulling in every favor we can to get on the list. But the Palestinian Government here has very little say as to who gets on the list. The Egyptians can say pilgrims only or pilgrims plus some regular passengers it`s up to them.
Knowing that something as important as saying good bye to your mother, something that will stick with you for the rest of your life is out of your hand, is so demoralizing and so hard to handle. Even if they gave you a definite date so you had something to work towards, it would ease the mental torture because that is what this siege is, it`s mental and physical torture. But it`s then you start to realize what the Palestinian have been going through for so many years and it gives you a new respect to their resolve.
Saturday 14th, Mam had a very rough night, her breathing is shallow and she is finding it hard to speak. I know she is only holding on waiting for me to get home, she told my sister “I`m trying my best to hold on but tell Derek I am sorry, I couldn`t hold on any longer”. We got a call around mid-day from Maria to say you need to say goodbye to mam, she put the phone on speaker. This was and well be the hardest call I will ever had to make, to hear her struggle for breath and listening to her last few pearls of wisdom. Not been able to hold her hand and tell her everything will be ok as she had done for me so many times in the past was torture. And all because the world decides to turn a blind to the longest siege in world history. Mam been mam is one for the strongest women I know and at 16.30 she is still holding on in the hope we will get out. The news on the border is it will open tomorrow but only for pilgrims. We are going to go to the border anyway and see if we can blag our way out, we have no choice. Sadly there will be 1000s of other’s trying the same thing; everyone here takes whatever chance they can because here, many times your life does depend on it.
22.52 Paul my brother called to say mam has just passed away. He said that it was so peaceful the way she went and that she is at rest now. Numbness is the only way to describe my feelings, sitting here just wait for tomorrow to come and try and start our journey home (tic tock tic tock). And we still don`t know if we will get out tomorrow, the rumours are that nobody but pilgrims are getting out tomorrow and Monday. (But we must try). If this is the case there is a possibility that we won`t make it home in time for the funeral. I don`t want to think about that right now but I have no choice. There will be many people reading this and saying it is your own fault, you chose to go and live there and yes they are correct. But there are 1.8 million people here that don`t have a choice, our story is one story, now multiply this story by 1.8 million and that is Gaza.
Sunday 15th. We have just spent the day at Rafah crossing, ask, begging, pleading, calling anyone that might be able to talk to the Egyptians. The kick in the gut came at the end of the day then we were allowed inside the first gate after waiting outside for 4 and a half hour. Normally when you pass the first gate it`s 90% certain that you will get across the border. Today the one day we really needed to get across we ended you in the other 10%. Just as we got past the first gate my brother called and I naively told him we are on our way, everyone at home was a little more relieved. 5 minutes last an offical came and told us that there is no way we are crossing today, first kick in the gut. We agued and said give us a few minutes to make some more calls. Back on to the Irish department of foreign affairs (who are always very helpful) back on to every contact we have in Gaza to no avail. While I was on the phone the official came back to Jenny and told her there is no way until Tuesday, today and tomorrow only for pilgrims, this was like two kicks in the gut at the same time. Now the funeral is looking out of reach. I couldn`t see mam before she died and now I may not be able to even kiss her goodbye and see her one last time before she is gone forever.
All because of petty politics and people wanting to show others who`s in charge. And the sad thing about it is we were not alone there were 100s of other people there in the same boat as us and them same people will be back again tomorrow trying again all because of the longest siege in world history. Some day the world will wake up and see the injustice of what is happening here.
Will update you later on how we get on over the next few days.
The next part is to Mam
There are parents, there are good parents and there are excellent parents.
Parent’s have children
Good parent’s have children and teach them right from wrong
Excellent parent’s have children, teach them right from wrong and give them the courage to stand up for what is right.
Thanks Mam for been an excellent parent and giving me the courage to do what I`m doing.
Doris Graham 1941 – 2014 R.I.P.